James Harden and the Coach K Effect


In 2005, Mike Krzyzewski gained the reins of the USA National Team; the rest, well the rest is history. After winning the gold at the 2000 Olympic Games, Team USA was reeling, caught in a gold medal draught until the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Despite boasting the best players and coaches in the world, it took Coach K to finally break the bronze medal curse.

Key the Coach K effect: one cup of extreme enthusiasm, a dash of polished professionalism, and ample amounts cerebral basketball knowledge. The man simply knows basketball, relates well to his players, and manages to coax the best out them. Playing for the USA National Team significantly impacted the game of multiple NBA stars, most notably Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

So how does Houston Rockets star James Harden factor into this conversation?

The current crop of USA National Team hopefuls is ripe with talent, but lacks veteran leadership. One of the few players with international experience (Harden played on the 2012 Olympic squad), Harden will serve a prominent role on the 2014 FIBA Word Cup team.

For the first time in his international basketball career, Harden will serve as a team leader and important cog in the rotation. Harden was merely a reserve player on the 2012 Olympic squad. Cast in a larger role, it will be interesting to see if working with Coach K will improve Harden’s game like it did for Durant and Anthony.

During the 2010 FIBA Championships, Durant was asked to be the main man, the primary option, the big kahuna (you get the picture). Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder broke out in a big way during the 2009-2010 season, winning 50 games after multiple sub-.500 seasons. Despite the improvement, the Thunder fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs due to Durant’s struggles to perform under the limelight.

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The 2010 FIBA Championships served as Durant’s coming out party. After succumbing to the pressure of the NBA playoffs, Durant dominated in Turkey, averaging 22.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assist per game. Even more astonishing, Durant hit 26 of his 57 attempted three pointers, good for a 45.6 percent clip, and went on to claim MVP honors (stats provided by FIBA.com).

Despite his failure in the playoffs, Coach K trusted in Durant’s game and ability to lead; his trust paid off in a big way, as the squad went on to claim the gold behind Durant’s brilliance.

Coach K’s trust also impacted Durant’s game and ability to lead. While his per game averages over the next two seasons didn’t see a significant uptick, Durant’s Thunder built on its 2009-2010 season, making it to the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012. Durant’s playoff win shares per 48 minutes saw a significant uptick, from .054 in 2010 to .217 and .231 in 2011 and 2012 (stats provided by basketball-reference.com).

Durant’s time with the Coach K and National Team helped him mature as a leader, propelling him towards perennial superstardom.

The New York Knicks Anthony provides a different example of the Coach K effect, albeit still a significant one. Despite his position as an NBA superstar, Anthony was relegated to sixth man duty on the 2012 Olympic team (which, by the way, was loaded with talent). As a sixth man, Coach K asked Anthony to play the role of a small ball stretch power forward. Just like Durant, Anthony saw his game transformed in a dramatic way. No, Anthony did not garner the same leadership acumen that Durant did, but he did become a much more efficient offensive force after the 2012 Olympics.

Already a prolific scorer, Anthony saw a significant uptick in his three point field goal percentage, hitting 37.9 percent of his triples in 2012-2013 and 40.2 percent in 2013-2014 (stats provided by basketball-reference.com). Adding a consistent three point shot to his already extensive repertoire of post-up and mid-range moves, Anthony has become a much more versatile offensive threat.

Prior to 2012, Anthony’s game was depended on probing his defender and holding the ball for much of the shot clock, until he finally hoisted a long two point jumper. Anthony still has stretches where the holds the ball far too long, but it’s not like the Knicks have given him much to work with. Regardless, since his 2012 Olympic stint and work with Coach K, Anthony has posted the highest player efficiency ratings of his career, logging a 24.8 per in 2012-2013 and 24.4 per in 2013-2014 (stats provided by basketball-reference.com).

Durant and Anthony prove that working with Coach K and the National Team can greatly impact a player’s career trajectory. Harden finds himself in an advantageous position; he will be counted on to lead a young squad (along with Durant) and provide some offensive firepower during the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Whether Harden improves as a leader, like Durant, or transforms into a much more efficient offensive force, a la Anthony, will depend on his willingness to listen and be molded by Coach K. Harden’s recent remarks regarding the status of his teammates and his playoff meltdowns prove that he must get better for the Rockets to make a substantial leap next season. Here’s hoping the Coach K effect will lead him further down the road to superstardom.